Canadian Cyclist


October 17/13 20:07 pm - Alison Sydor Interview - Sports Hall of Fame Inductee

Posted by Editoress on 10/17/13

On Wednesday evening (October 16th), Canadian cycling star Alison Sydor was recognized for her unparalleled career by being inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. Sydor is only the sixth cyclist and the second female cyclist to be so honoured, joining Torchy Peden, Jocelyn Lovell, Steve Bauer, Curt Harnett and Clara Hughes. [Note: Hughes was inducted as both a speed skater and a cyclist, while Sylvia Burka was inducted as a speed skater]

Alison Sydor won an Olympic silver medal, three individual Cross-country world titles, as well as a Team Relay world title. Equally impressive, Alison finished in the top-5 at the world championships a staggering 13 consecutive times (including four silver and three bronze performances), and in the top-5 at three consecutive Olympic Games. Other victories include 17 World Cup wins, a bronze medal at the Road World Championships, a gold medal at the Pan Am Games and two wins at the Cape Epic. We selected Alison as our Cyclist of the Century (1900-1999), along with Steve Bauer.

Some of the 17 world championship & Games medals won by Alison Sydor

Alison's nomination for the Sports Hall of Fame was the work of, among others, former team mates Jill Smith, Sara Neil, Denise Kelly, Maria Hawkins and Kelly Ann Erdman, as well as coach Karen Strong. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, these riders formed what was probably the strongest concentration of cycling talent Canada has ever seen in one era. Tracy and I have been privileged to know these riders during their careers and since, as well as having Jill and (for a brief time) Sara riding for us when we ran a women's road squad.

Jill, Maria, Kelly Anne and Karen all attended last night's award ceremonies in Toronto, and I joined them for coffee this morning before driving Alison, Jill and Alison's mom, Maureen, to the airport. We have some photos of these incredible riders, plus others spanning Alison's career, as well as an interview Alison and I did on the way to the airport.


Kelly Ann Erdman, Maria Hawkins, Alison Sydor, Jill Smith & Karen Strong



Alison Sydor, team mates & coach at Ai Weiwei exhibit


Canadian Cyclist: Winning this award, what does it mean to you, in terms of looking back at your entire career?

Alison Sydor: Well, when I got the call and was told this Spring, a lot of memories came flooding back. Through the whole process of getting ready for the event, and last night, going through clippings and binders, scrapbooks and stuff ... it brings back lots of great memories, and it was really fun to do the trip down memory lane.

It makes you think about the valuable things you got from your career, and one of the things you learn as you get older is that while your career is defined by others by medals and trophies, and race results and accomplishments, I was coming to realize that for me it was fantastic to think about all of the memories, all of the amazing experiences I enjoyed through my career, with the travelling, and most specially all the great friends I gained from sport.

So last night was super special; not just for the induction, but getting to share that. My mom was there, as well, Karen Strong was there, and a number of my former team mates - Jill Smith, Maria Hawkins and Kelly Ann Erdman all made the trip, so that just made it extra special and extra fun to share with them last night.

CC: You had three world titles, an Olympic medal, a total of 17 medals from world championships and major Games ... anything that really stands out in your memory?

AS: Everybody always asks about a highlight, and I guess one of the highlights for me ... I had so many highlights ... I guess if I had to pick out one or two, personally winning the world championships for the first time in Vail [Colorado, 1994] was just amazing. An amazing emotional experience and something that had been a dream ever since I started cycling. To pull on the rainbow jersey, such an amazing iconic symbol in cycling, and just such a cool thing - every athlete dreams to wear the rainbow jersey for a year.

That result changed me personally, in so many good ways. It just gave me so much more confidence; after that big win, I just enjoyed my time as an athlete so much more, just with that confidence. That one day; you work for years and years to get there. That one result was very special and very

Also, it wasn't a win, but getting that silver medal in Atlanta [1996 Olympics] ... it was just amazing to see the impact an Olympic medal has on your country, on your community. All the other results, the mountain bike results, the road racing results that I had achieved on my bike, never got the attention that an Olympic silver medal did.

It was amazing to see how it affected my community in North Vancouver, and all the kids that had seen mountain biking on TV for the first time. That's what the Olympics does, it gives a sport an unusual level of exposure, especially for a sport that is never on TV [in Canada]. That's how I discovered bike racing even existed; flipping on the TV during the LA [Los Angeles, 1984] Olympics and watching Steve Bauer sprint to the silver medal.

So here I was, finding myself having the same effect on young kids in North Vancouver, and seeing how the sport grew amongst the kids after bringing a medal back to North Van.

CC: At the end of your career it seemed like you left cycling for a while, before coming back.

AS: I had such a long career, I definitely was due a break. My body and mind just said to me that I needed to take some time off the bike, away from cycling. You have to be a little bit obsessive about your health and your fitness, and training and everything when you are a professional athlete. I had to get myself out of that cycle to enter into the next phase of my life. The easiest way for me to do that, I decided, was to go cold turkey.

A year after that I needed the physical exercise and then got that through other sports, through hiking and cross-country skiing, and that was great. As far as myself as an athlete, it was about being in the moment, getting to the races in the best possible state to get the best possible result. But once you crossed the finish line, the race was over, and I can't say I lived too much thinking about my last race results, it was always about moving on, moving forward to the next one.

At the end of my career ... I think every athlete ends their career in their own way, at their own time. I'm really fortunate to have had the chance to end my career when I wanted to end it. A lot of athletes are less fortunate, whether through personal circumstances or injury; they leave before they feel like they gave their all to their time in sport. I know I got every last bit out of me, so it was nice to finish without any regret that way.

The one involvement I came back to cycling for, a year later, was when a former team mate, Sara Neil and her husband Steve Eng, contacted me to help out with the Vancouver-based Red Truck Racing team. That was my first re-integration back to working to help some local cyclists again. It was fun to find another way to be back in the sport.

It's not just about the competitive side that drew me into cycling in the beginning. It was always about the social side, and cycling is great for that; you go out riding in a pack and there's lots of conversation. Whether you race or not, this is a fun thing to do. So getting back in, having a program to be a part of again, was just a great way to get some real pleasure from the sport again.

CC: Have you ever thought about, or would you do something like be a Chef de Mission for cycling, like Curt [Harnett] is doing for the whole Canadian team at the Pan Ams?

AS: In 2008, I had just finished competing at that [high performance] level, not finished as a competitor; I went on for another year and had a fantastic way to finish my career doing epic stage races and the marathons, and another area of mountain biking. But I remember reading [internet speculation about Alison as a Chef de Mission], and thinking 'Hmmm, I'd really like to try that'. I know how it all works, I know what the athletes need, and I did give it some thought.

There was something else really important happening at that time. I was part of the team that rode with Karen [Strong] at the ride with Lance [Armstrong] just outside Banff, and that was a really, really special time for me. Four of us came together with Karen and rode with her, and were part of her recovery from her battle with breast cancer. So, personally, that was a moment I would never ever have missed, and I am so glad we had that experience together. That was right at the same time [as the Beijing Games], so I thought that it would be something that interested me, but it conflicted with another really important commitment I had already made. And I don't regret that at all.

But it's something [being Chef de Mission] that I know I have [the ability] through such a long career - a lot of experience with events and how athletes think; if you know how to bring out the best in yourself, then you can do that and share those experiences and help other athletes do exactly the same.

I don't know if I'm quite Curt, and take on the whole team, but as far cycling ... I really do enjoy sharing my experience with other cyclists, the younger cyclists. I think everybody likes to see that all the experiences they have in their life can be shared and used to help others. So if there's an opportunity, just like I do in Vancouver, to share some of my insight, I think everybody likes to do stuff like that.

CC: Last question: Anything else coming up that you are involved in?

AS: Well Rob, we're here in your car, driving to the airport, and I'm flying back to Vancouver tonight and go right downtown and be part of the Cycling BC fundraiser [laughs].

An incredible group of guests will be there - I saw Steve Bauer at the [Sports Hall of Fame] induction last night, and he was already flying off to Vancouver to go to the same event. Obviously, I'm looking forward to seeing Svein [Tuft], and a big part of the evening is celebrating his career and his success at the Tour this year.

It's fun to celebrate your own successes like last night, but I really enjoy celebrating the successes of athletes you know, and when you know their story and just how many years of hard work they put in. There's that one result the public pays attention to, but there is all the hard work they have put in. I have huge respect for Svein, and I'm just looking forward to a really good time tonight.


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